Calexico is one of the great bands of the 21st century. Led by permanent members Joey Burns and John Convertino, the band made its name with albums that suggested dusty vistas and sweeping cinematic storylines. But in recent years, they’ve broadened their sound; like on their 2012 album, Algiers, named after the New Orleans neighbourhood in which it was recorded, which mixed up their usual Latin approach with indie guitar and some edgy songs.
Their 2018 album, The Thread That Keeps Us, is another fine addition to an already impressive catalogue and stands as a good example of the rewards to be reaped by a band that continues to refine its sound.
First up is “End of the World with You”, a slice of anthemic rock that speaks of “Love in the age of extremes”; lyrically, it’s as good a calling card as any for an album that isn’t afraid to mix topical issues with more traditional storytelling. It’s the first part of a brilliant 1-2-3 that gets the album off to a superb start. “Voices in the Field” speaks of a “garden now in ashes” whilst “Bridge to Nowhere” includes the lyric “Shelter underground in case the big one comes.” If this all sounds a bit gloomy, don’t be fooled; the music is as dramatic as we’ve come to expect from Calexico, but the songs are full of hooks, whilst choppy acoustic guitars and fiery riffs fill the spaces between verse and chorus.
The middle of the album mixes things up a little with the jaunty “Under the Wheels”, which blends stabs of keyboard with short bursts of trumpet and “The Town & Miss Lorraine”. I’m not sure what this song is about, starting as it does with the discovery of “a book in a washed up ship” and progressing to a “bad accident on the interstate”, but its gentle strumming and laconic delivery make for a good change of pace. “Flores y Tamales” represents the sole Spanish song on the album and features some superb accordion and mariachi trumpets. Next up is “Another Space” with some nifty organ fills and a hypnotic chorus.
Favourites from later in the album include the eco-themed “Girl in the Forest”, with its gentle lilting rhythm, the urgent “Dead in the Water” that oozes menace, and the short instrumental “Shortboard”, which sounds like the coda to a lost Doors track. I’ve read that the band recorded the album in Northern California, in a makeshift studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With this in mind, you’ll swear that you can almost hear the influence of the elements and roar of the ocean on songs such as “Eyes Wide Awake”, which carries a haunting atmosphere.
With The Thread That Keeps Us, Calexico cover a lot of ground both musically and lyrically and I highly recommend this album if you like your indie rock shaded with some interesting styles and flavours. It makes for a great start to the year in music.